CHENNAI: In the lead-up to the India-Australia clash during the 2022 ODI World Cup, all the build-up was about how if there were a team to stop the Australian juggernaut, it would be the Women in Blue.
Although Australians proved to be unstoppable, bagging yet another World Cup in the end, the argument did have its share of merits.
After all, India did end their record-breaking winning streak a few months prior. They are the only team to beat Australia in the two previous T20 World Cups.
This is why, once again, as India and Australia are set to kickstart the debut of women’s cricket in the Commonwealth Games on Friday, the focus has come back to the same argument.
Australia have picked up from where they left in the World Cup final, winning the tri-series in Ireland, and are coming into the Birmingham Games with a full-strength squad. India, on the other hand, were hampered by Covid even before they left for England.
While Sabbineni Meghana would be joining the team before the opening game, in all likelihood she might not be in the starting XI. Pooja Vastrakar, who is still in India, would be a big miss, especially in the opening clash against Australia.
The Madhya Pradesh all-rounder has grown into a vital cog in the Indian side ever since she made a comeback last year. In Sri Lanka, she was spearheading the inexperienced pace attack while also providing the cushion as a lower-order hitter in the batting.
In her absence, India could potentially field an all-spin attack. With Meghna Singh yet to make her T20I debut, Renuka Singh Thakur could be the lone seamer in the XI. In a way, it could become a blessing in disguise if the likes of Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Radha Yadav, Deepti Sharma, and Sneh Rana step up and deliver. India cricketer Veda Krishnamurthy believes they can.
"The spin bowling department is pretty experienced. They will always fall back on Deepti and Rajeshwari (Gayakwad) to kind of control the game. The attack is really strong with Deepti and Rajeshwari bowling in tandem,” said Veda in an interaction facilitated by Sony Sports Network recently.
But it also depends on the conditions that are on offer. A day before the game, India captain Harmanpreet Kaur said that the pitch has been covered to avoid rain if any.
“The nets are pretty similar here. It looks good for batting and the bowlers get some help as well because of the weather and the grass of the wicket. I think there will be something for both batters and bowlers,” said Harmanpreet on Thursday.
Which is where, the attention shifts to India’s batting, which looks young and dynamic on paper, with Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Harmanpreet and Jemimah Rodrigues occupying the top five spots.
However, they would want one of their openers to play long and big to make an impact as Australia has one of the strongest bowling attacks and would be looking for wickets throughout the innings.
Harmanpreet spoke about the “killing attitude” something Pooja had suggested in a players-only meeting recently.
Although the 22-year-old isn’t there yet, it seems to be the kind of approach they are trying to build within the squad as they aim for gold.
Yes, ‘we are looking for gold and not a podium finish is something every Indian player has said while addressing the media.
And the first step towards it would be stopping the Australian juggernaut as they have in the past.
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